It’s National Science Week this week in Australia!
Well, truth be told, it’s pretty much science year this 2016 for me, what with my pledge to read 12 science books this year – a science book a month. Currently, I’m on Gaia Vince’s Adventures in the Anthropocene, which I’m really liking – but more on this in my book reveiw at the end of the month.
For today, I thought I thought I’d share one of my favourite new apps – the Sky Guide app. A friend of mine showed it to me when we were down south in Yallingup and found ourselves under a winter sky dusted with a frosting of stars, bright and visible now that we were far away from the pollution of the city lights. It’s a really cool app and I just knew I had to download it when I got home. The name of the app is pretty much self-explanatory – when you switch the app on and raise your phone to the sky, it will identify the stars and planets in whichever direction you’re pointing, even trace out the constellations.
This month, I’m hoping to use this app to easily spot the five planet alignment (Mars, Mercury, Venus, Saturn and Jupiter), which is supposed to be visible in August, but as of yet I haven’t been able to spot it, mainly because it’s been raining heaps here in Perth or something always occurs to prevent me getting to a good spot to see the planets in the early evening, which is the time when they are best viewed in Western Australia. Also, living in the city, it’s not the easiest thing to find a good location for stargazing. There’s still time though, so hopefully I’ll get to see it soon…
Stargazing is such a terrific way of reminding myself of the beauty and wonder of the universe, the true magic of what’s out there, of what really matters. Any time I’ve had a bad day, I go out and look at the stars and remind myself that whatever happened to me today, it pales significantly in comparison to the infinite wonders of the universe. As Carl Sagan said regarding a picture of Earth that he requested the Voyager 1 space probe take in 1990, about six billion kilometres away, just before the craft left our solar system, showing our planet to be nothing more than a tiny speck in the universe, a pale blue dot:
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
“The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.
“Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
“The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
“It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”